Imagine a world where the term “driving” is obsolete and a parking lot can not be seen for miles. The streets are empty and nature has pushed its way through the cracks of the smooth cement. A car drifts by, but there is nobody in the driver’s seat. One may think they are in a dystopian world where much of civilization has vanished and the Earth is returning to its natural state, but this is simply a world with driverless cars and less parking spaces – a reality that could soon be true in the near future, as described in Clive Thompson’s article, “No Parking Here”. In this article, Thompson expresses how frustrating parking issues and environmental concerns that surface from inefficient space planning, the diminishing number of purchased cars from the younger generation, as well the successful application of public transportation in modern cities are all compelling reasons of why driverless cars will positively change our world. In a period of curiosity, innovation, and productivity, it is only a matter of time that our urban space expands to one with driverless cars, which will obliviate the need for large parking lots and remove stagnant traffic, consequently decreasing pollution levels and enhancing our environment.
The introduction of automobiles unlocked a world of possibilities for those living in the urban area. Vehicles gave their owners the freedom to work, eat, and live in places that would otherwise take hours to walk to. However, the popular option of owning a car has created havoc in the city, leaving cars idly waiting for parking spots while the sheer quantity of these massive, moving heaps of metal can be seen laid strewn at every block, with, as Thompson notes, “the average automobile [spending] 95 percent of its time sitting in place” (1). A 2011 study at the University of California-Berkeley estimates that the United States has about “a billion parking spots…[amounting to almost] four times more parking spaces that vehicles” (1). Even with these mind-boggling statistics, people are still found spending about 20 minutes per trip just searching for an empty spot. For this reason, the action of simply circling around hunting for empty spaces has made driving a burden and the thought of owning a car a nuisance. With self-driving cars, one would not have to waste time searching for a parking spot, as new technology would allow the car to drive itself around to find a space, after dropping the passenger off at their desired venue. This would dramatically reduce the amount of parking spaces needed, as people would not have to worry about parking at a nearby location in fear of the walking distance.
With countless documentaries, articles, and social media campaigns blasting facts about global warming and greenhouse emissions, it is not surprising that today’s society has become more self-aware about their ecological footprint. The introduction of self-driving cars would reap various environmental benefits, including less pollution and more community parks filled with lush grass and air-filtrating greenery. Totaled up, all the land devoted to parking amounts to “roughly 6,500 square miles” (2) – mostly unused land that could be developed from mundane grey slabs of concrete to parks and playgrounds that would both enhance the environment and bring the community together, a concept that is very much needed in this planet that we have polluted and drained of its resources.
A great example of an eco-friendly city that could benefit greatly with more self-driving cars is Vancouver. The city has extensive transits systems, bike share programs, and numerous bike lanes allowing one to conveniently reach their destination without driving. Vancouver also has several car share programs that are widely used, each with designated parking spots that can easily be accessed in popular locations. Though the city has a large driving population, the current options allow residents to minimise the amount of “‘cruising’ for parking…[which] burns 47,000 gallons of gas and generates 730 tons of Carbon Dioxide a year” (1). As the proposed self-driving cars would be fully electric, Berkeley lab scientist Jeffrey Greenblatt deduces that “emissions would be 90 percent lower” (7), even if cars were left “cruising around”. As a fellow Vancouverite, I can attest to the fact that I always avoid driving a car to Downtown, Vancouver as the search for free (or cheap) parking is nearly impossible. There is always an abundance of traffic clogging every lane, with five-seater cars only occupied by one person. Electric, ride-sharing driverless cars would be highly effective in Vancouver as there are only so many routes one could go in this small, crowded city; one is bound to meet another heading in the same direction.
In his paper, Thompson emphasizes that the concept of self-driving cars would surely excite millennials and provide them with a relatively cheaper and more eco-friendly transportation method (5), especially if their lifestyle requires a vehicle as opposed to public transit. Most of the younger population rely on the popular new ridesharing service “Uber”, with “70 percent of [the service’s] customers [being] under the age of 34” (5). Only two years ago, Uber reported that “its drivers were making 1 million trips per day” (5), proving that millennials have found a way to get around without the need to own or drive a car. Thompson’s article suggests that the self-driving cars could be used for a ride-sharing program, further decreasing the number of five-seater cars that are frequently occupied by only one passenger. A similar system made by Uber called “Uber Pool” has already observed rapid growth, with nearly “50 percent of all Uber rides in the [year-old program introduced in San Francisco being] pooled” (5). Surely, if self-driving carpool systems were introduced in other North American cities such as San Francisco, they would be received very well.
In conclusion, the concept of driverless cars would, with no doubt, be highly beneficial by increasing the sense of community in urban spaces through the addition of new parks in place of deconstructed lots and providing the population with a convenient and safe mode of transportation, with vehicles that have the technology to detect millions of objects of a time, most of which your average driver would not be able to see (6). Driverless cars would also diminish the need for vast, empty parking lots with urban thinkers estimating that “90 percent of our current lots” (8) would be eliminated in only 15 years from now. According to data produced by a group of MIT scientists, “if 50 percent of drivers shifted over to ridesharing, it would reduce traffic congestion by 37 percent and decrease the number of vehicles on the road by 19 percent” (5). These statistics only further emphasize my point of how necessary ridesharing and self-driving vehicles are, especially in cities such as Vancouver. As millennials are always seeking to make the world a better place through change, I am confident that many will be eager to enter this seemingly dystopian future of less cars and more nature, in hopes of saving our environment and erasing the negative stigma around cars and driving.